Cowen must explain

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In terms of political and public relations gaffes, Brian Cowen’s decision to give an interview to TG4, as his sole media outing since retiring as Taoiseach, takes some beating.

In terms of political and public relations gaffes, Brian Cowen’s decision to give an interview to TG4, as his sole media outing since retiring as Taoiseach, takes some beating.

In normal circumstances, Mr Cowen’s interview in a soft-focus show would have been a routine media event. Mr Cowen has an interesting story to tell, in terms of family background and personal and political pursuits.

But we are not living in normal times. It was no reflection on TG4 that Mr Cowen’s performance was such a disaster. It was just another engaging programme for the station.And the fact that Mr Cowen has largely maintained a Tappist monk-like silence since retiring from politics inevitably heightened interest in the interview.

Nobody is questioning Mr Cowen’s integrity. He conducted himself at all times in politics with absolute probity, unlike some of his colleagues.

But any analysis of Mr Cowen’s political stewardship does not end there.

He must account for decisions made, or not made, individually or aspart of a Cabinet.

Recalling old times, with a few questions thrown in about the economic implosion under his stewardship, is not a good enough response.

Mr Cowen has spoken of how he has received a hard time from sections of the media.Some of the coverage has been personal and wounding. He is right in that.

But there are responsible media outlets who would give him a platform to express his views, particularly about his time in the Department of Finance and as Taoiseach. But, then, of course, he would have to answer hard questions.

He ran for cover since leaving Government Buildings, with the utterly inadequate explanation that he was now a private citizen.

Then, when the opportunity presented itself, he gave a soft-focus interview on TG4, believing that this would be an adequate response to demands that he explain his stewardship.

Frankly, Mr Cowen has shown himself to have a brass neck. It was cynical, opportunistic and, ultimately, a disaster.

What planet is Mr Cowen living on?

Politics was very good to Mr Cowen. His mentor, Albert Reynolds, brought him into the Cabinet, bypassing the traditional route of a junior ministry.

He retired, after a mere 27 years, with a handsome and utterly secure pension.

Contrast that with the lot of those who have worked for 40 years or so in the private sector for modest occupational pensions, only to see them, in some cases, considerably reduced because of the economic mess Mr Cowen and his Fianna Fail and PD colleagues made of the economy.

Nobody is suggesting that Mr Cowen should shoulder all the blame. But he was a pivotal figure in Government in the lead-up to the economic collapse. He has questions to answer.

Going before an Oireachtas committee will not suffice. It looks as if the committee, to be set up by the Government, will be no more than a political star chamber.

What this country needs is a short, sharp inquiry by professionals who would send a report to Government, naming names and reaching conclusions.

In his TG4 interview, Mr Cowen said his Government’s motivation was to help the country progress. “We wanted to improve services such as education, health, social welfare, old age pensions and so on,” he added.

Big deal! That, surely, should be the motivation of any Government. He failed to acknowledge that his Government, despite having the resources, made a dog’s dinner of the health services.

What about the scandal of the decentralisation plan, which turned out to be no more than an expensive stunt? What about the money wasted on e-voting machines? And so on and on.

In a desperate attempt to spread the blame, Mr Cowen said the Opposition at the time was demanding more spending. As if, in some way, that excused the incompetence of his own Government.

Some commentators and academics were predicting the disaster that eventually befell us. They were not listened to. Why?

Was it because retaining power was the priority of the Fianna Fail-led Government? Time is running out for Mr Cowen.

He must explain himself in detail to the Irish people who are paying his pension.

And soon.